Is backward causation really possible? (February 2, 2012)

The other day, a friend asked me if I could find those passages in the Course that talk of us being able to send miracles backward in time. It’s a fascinating topic, one that at first seems impossible. I mean, the past has already happened, right? And whenever you talk about going back and affecting the past, you get into weird contradictions. My favorite one is in the movie Somewhere in Time, where in the beginning an old Jane Seymour gives Christopher Reeve this pocket watch and says “Come back to me,” and then he travels back in time (with the watch) to when she was young, and gives her the pocket watch, which she then hangs onto, so she can give it to him when she’s old. Notice how no one ever actually buys the pocket watch. It effectively appears out of thin air.

Considerations like this led me for a long time to deny that time travel was possible. It seems to make no sense. But then I realized that if all of time is happening simultaneously, then the past, too, is happening now. And if separation is not real, then we are not really separate from the past. So why couldn’t we affect it? I still don’t understand the whole pocket watch thing, but I’m sure there are a lot of things I don’t understand.

So here are the quotes I had collected over time:

1. And it [the idea, “Forgiveness is my function as the light of the world”] will help those around you, as well as those who seem to be far away in space and time, to share this happiness with you. (W-pI.62.4:3)

2. Here [in the idea “I rest in God”] is the end of suffering for all the world, and everyone who ever came and yet will come to linger for a while. (W-pI.109.2:5)

3. Time is not the guardian of what we give today [through practicing “I rest in God”]. We give to those unborn and those passed by, to every Thought of God, and to the Mind in which these Thoughts were born and where they rest. (W-pI.109.9:4-5)

4. What we receive [through doing today’s lesson] is our eternal gift to those who follow after, and to those who went before or stayed with us a while. (W-pI.124.3:1)

5. No miracle can ever be denied to those who know that they are one with God [idea for the day]. No thought of theirs but has the power to heal all forms of suffering in anyone, in times gone by and times as yet to come, as easily as in the ones who walk beside them now. Their thoughts are timeless, and apart from distance as apart from time. (W-pI.124.6)

These quotes make it as clear as can be that the Course is claiming we can heal suffering in people who are in the past—“in times gone by…as easily as in the ones who walk beside them now.”

But here is what I found really interesting about these passages: They bring it all down to a very practical punch line. This idea is one of those that can easily inspire lots of metaphysical speculation (“Where in the hell did that watch come from?”). Yet, in characteristic form, the Course takes this high-flying idea and brings it down to something very practical: Do your Workbook practice today. That is the point in all five passages. They all mention healing people in the past as an incentive to practicing that day’s lesson.

So the notion of backward causation is merely playing a supporting role to the truly important idea: the power of doing your practice. Your practice, we are told, is so powerful, that it can heal people right now in faraway places. Indeed, it can heal people in “times as yet to come.” Hardest to believe of all, it can heal people “in times gone by.” Why can it do that? Because the healing thoughts you gain from doing your practice reach out to everything real, in all times and all places.

I think there is something truly beautiful in the Course taking such a mind-bending idea and, rather than encouraging us to get lost in speculation about it, using it purely as an incentive to sit down right now and do today’s Workbook lesson.

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